the floating librarian

the floating librarian

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Portugal and Cadiz, Spain

Written October 27, 2014

As promised, I'm backtracking to share my experiences in Portugal and Spain. Rome will be next, as I reminisce while crossing the Atlantic to Brazil. Today probably marks the last time we will see land for 10 days. We are stopped off the coast of Gran Canaria island for refuelling, a very important task!

We did not have much time in Lisbon, unless one chose to dash madly across Portugal and Spain while the ship sailed between Lisbon and Cadiz. I chose the more relaxing route, spending the night in the lovely beach town of Cascais and returning to the ship for the trip to Spain. It was a nice respite and my birthday gift to myself. Also, it was a sweet connection with my daughter Sally, who discovered the PerfectSpotLisbon hostel/ bed & breakfast last year. I really enjoyed talking with Rita and Jon, the owners, who remember Sally well and fondly. As a bonus, I found strong enough WiFi and a good time slot to talk with Sally too.
Perfect Spot in Cascais

The sidewalks in Cascais were not conducive to gaining land legs.

Boca Del Diablo, Cascais
Cadiz (accent on the first syllable) is another lovely coastal city, but with beautiful historical architecture and a little more bustle than Cascais. I walked along the coast through parks filled with tropical plants and parrots (and one children's park with a dinosaur pond and waterfall). Some of us climbed the tower to see the whole city, whose all-white buildings gleam in the sun like sand castles. There was also a camera oscura where the guide played with the pedestrians we could see, and showed us our own dear barco in the harbor. As I posted to Facebook at the time:
"Dear Duke: I'm afraid I may miss the ship leaving from Cadiz, Spain. Don't worry about me, though. Just send my retirement funds and I can buy a condo for 85,000 euros."

From Cadiz we went to Casablanca, Morocco (see my post about 20,000 camels) then to the port nearest Rome (post TBA) before heading to our second port substituted for West Africa -- Barcelona -- which deserves its own post, coming up next.

Saturday, October 18, 2014


We have now passed the midpoint of our voyage, and the emotional doldrums we were warned about may be setting in. Passengers are homesick, exhausted after excursions into port, irritated with others' quirks, impatient with the inconveniences of travel, tired of being tourists in foreign lands, and weary of being in the contained environment of a ship. Think of it as Hump Day to the nth order of magnitude.

Apparently this is nothing new in history, as evidenced by the art I've been seeing in my travels.
detail, exterior of Orvieto cathedral

pigeon holes, Orvieto

random reaction in Rome
Rome metro

Yet this is a good community of people, mostly finding the positive in experiences and proactively seeking solutions. We are wary of the upcoming long Atlantic crossing, and planning diversions from academics and sea sickness. I’m looking forward to Neptune Day, Sea Olympics, an ice cream party for our library student assistants, perhaps some open mics and singing.

on the wall of a great hole-in-the-wall restaurant in Rome
Ostia Antica teatro

riding the dolphin, Ostia Antica

Lifeboat Exercise

Today I spent an in-port day on the ship, and saw a curious sight. These strange-looking little orange boats were circling around the MV Explorer. They were our lifeboats, being taken out for a test drive!

I didn't realize how much manual labor is involved in lifting them back on the ship. There are motorized hoists of course but the crew must sidle up to the hooks, grab them, secure and tighten them—both the orange hooks for the hoists and the other hooks that presumably hold the boats in place once they’re up.

My assigned lifeboat had a little trouble maneuvering alongside the hooks, but she made it back safely. I also got to watch #5 rise up next to my cabin window. I could see inside and straight through to the port of Civitavecchia. This is the view of the top of the lifeboat as she rose.

A crew member told me they were practicing for a drill to be held in Barcelona.

Monday, October 13, 2014

20,000 Camel Bride

I'm behind on posting, but I'm going to skip Portugal and Cadiz, Spain for now to give you the more interesting stories from Morocco.

Morocco is definitely a land of contrasts for an American who has never been to Africa or Asia. In Casablanca I went with a group of friends to see the mosque built by King Hassan II for his 60th birthday. It is spectacular, shining in the sun on the rocky coast. It holds 25,000 worshippers inside, with an outdoor plaza to accomodate 80,000 total. It is constructed with mostly Moroccan materials, plus a little marble and titanium for good measure.
Hassan II mosque

Later in the day we walked past the mosque along the coast, trying to get to the lighthouse. Almost literally within the shadow of the opulent mosque, we happened upon slum dwellings made with clay, wood, and corrugated tin on what would be considered prime beachfront property in the US. On the next street over, or even a couple of blocks up, there are expensive tourist restaurants with all the comforts and an ocean view. But if you look closely, the tide line is marked by plastic trash, and there are fishermen on the rocks until the last moments of sunset. And everywhere there are dust, trash, and unpleasant smells.
In a souk

I also took an overnight trip to Marrakech and the Oureka Valley, where I experienced medinas (ancient town squares) and souks (labyrinthine marketplaces with dark stalls crowded with merchandise); and visited a women's co-op that makes argan oil, and a Berber family that makes their living hosting tourists for mint tea and lunch in their home on a hill. By the way, fellow Durhamites, the currency here is the dirham, so I had no trouble remembering it.
Woman making argan oil

There is too much to report here, but suffice it to say this is a land of sensory overload--sights, smells, heat, dust, sounds of hawkers calling to you and the 5-times-daily call to prayer for the Sunni Muslims that comprise 99% of the population.

Personal space is not at all what we’re used to. The sellers are friendly and joking but aggressive—they will grab your arm and pull you into the stall to seal the deal, or start putting a henna tattoo on you and then tell you how much you owe them for it. They try buzz phrases in many languages to see what makes you turn your head, then try to create a bond by guessing where you’re from.

My favorite was an artist in the Casablanca medina who put his arm around me and offered 20,000 camels to my male companions for their wife, since they apparently had three wives between them. They did not accept the offer, because we can't bring camels on the ship ;-) so I am still single and traveling with Semester at Sea.

Send your camels to bed